Kids do the darndest things

Posted: Dec 11, 2001 12:00 AM
The mighty warrior John Walker, age 20, bids to become the second most famous personality of the Afghan war, after Osama bin Laden himself. You don't catch that many Americans fighting for an enemy, if indeed he did fight, which hasn't been established, but at least seems likely, inasmuch as he was captured along with a cellar full of diehard Taliban. A huge number of Americans imply that they would be pleased indeed to string up young Mr. Walker from the nearest telephone pole: a more stringent punishment than his lawyer father has in mind, that being a "kick" on the portion of the anatomy used for sitting. My own hunch would be, not much will happen to young Mr. Walker, who will come to trial long after present passions have cooled. Assuming he didn't shoot somebody, young Mr. W. may receive the dispensation often reserved for nutty 20-year-olds, a combination of forgive-and-forget and fruitcakes-will-be-fruitcakes. Actually, it isn't young Mr. Walker who bothers many of us so much as it is the people who, um, raised him -- his parents. Or would that be his so-called parents? Without having met either Mom or Dad, one has a hard time appraising life in the Walker-Lindh nest. (Lindh is the dad's name; the parents, in that very modern way modern people have devised, split some years ago. Marriage was a tad more than they wanted to work on.) Young Mr. Walker's parents, while he had them both, seem to have been fabulously tolerant. They encouraged him to find, among other things, his own religious faith (just as Mom, a sort of Buddhist, had found hers). Whether or not the faith to be discovered was true was, I gather, beside the point. That would be because truth, as attested to by philosophers, theologians, poets and statesmen, seems to have vanished from the planet. We simply don't acknowledge it. It's all opinion or perspective now: mine being no better than yours or yours than mine. Everything is the same. (Except that maybe -- maybe -- the American way of life, corrupted as it is by materialism -- is a little less worthy of respect than other, "purer" ways. The Margaret Mead thing, you know.) Every parent comes to understand, sooner or later, the futility of seeing young lives as hot molten lead to be given final and formal shape by the artificer's hand. It rarely works, and why should it, given the uniqueness of every single soul? At the same time, you have to do what you can -- which may be more obligation than young Mr. Walker's parents thought proper or desirable. Still, if your Marin County-bred son became a teenage Islamist and decamped for the Middle East, wouldn't you be just a trifle put off? I'll wager most parents of the old-fashioned sort would have caught the first plane for Riyadh and dragged their youngster home by main force if necessary. Not Ms. Walker and Mr. Lindh. In their eyes, you assume, young Mr. Walker was Seeking. Whether seeking in a sensible way for a sensible goal is a question that seems not have surfaced often in family discussions, if there were any such. Off, then, he goes to join the Taliban -- members and supporters of maybe the worst regime anywhere. That's what most people would call a really dumb thing to do. But he did it and for a while got away with it. A pity, you say, that someone closely related to him -- a parent, say -- didn't take a hand in teaching him. Of course, that would have required taking a closer interest in the old assumptions most people used to make -- parenthood as maybe the highest of responsibilities; childhood as a school rather than a playground; wisdom to be praised, dumb actions to be rebuked and sometimes prevented. Gee whiz, dad, it sounds almost like the '50s. And doesn't it sound good?